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In the mindless leftism department

In today’s edition of the mindless, knee-jerk leftism department, Reuters reports that Oxfam is upset that Singapore has low tax rates, apparently because this somehow creates “inequality”. Note that Singapore also has a notably low poverty rate, and that poor people in Singapore are better off than in almost all of the other countries on earth, and (given Oxfam’s purported original mission) poor people in Singapore eat pretty damn well, but as Singapore doesn’t mindlessly tax people for no reason, we are apparently to think of it as a terrible place.

Why the US Pulling Out of the UPU is a Big Deal

Yesterday, the US initiated the process for pulling out of the Universal Postal Union (UPU). This 144 year old institution is responsible for multilateral negotiation which sets rates at which packages approximately 5 pounds or less can be shipped. In age where government postal services competes in the market with companies like FedEx and Amazon, it seems absolutely absurd that a UN specialised agency is responsible for shipment rate setting in the 21st century.

While this might seem like a very boring and mundane situation, it is in fact a big deal. This has nothing to do with Trump and how the US is dealing with foreign affairs. This has to do with the US signalling that it is finished with institutions, which have been captured by certain countries with special interests, which use international organisations to legitimise their national agendas. In a statement, the US Chamber of Commerce said that the system is “exploited by a handful of countries.” Unfortunately, this trend occurs widely across the UN system and multilateral organisations. Take a look at the WTO and the UN Human Rights Council, for example.

Another case in point is the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Like the UPU, the ITU was founded over 150 years ago in order for international negotiations of telegraph exchanges to take place. Currently it is responsible for global spectrum harmonisation, satellite orbital assignment and telephone numbering. However, in the 1980s a majority of member states agreed to use the ITU to set call termination rates between international calls. The US opted out of this process because telecommunications was liberalising and competition among telecoms companies as well as governments allowed for lower termination rates and a market based system. Arguably, this allowed for the dial up days of the Internet to emerge and develop rapidly.

I can raise many issues with multilateral institutions in the 21st century. Most of these institutions have a number of national members of the dictatorship persuasion that wish to control new and emerging technologies primarily developed and run by the private sector. I have written about this here, for example. However, the point that I wish to make here is that old institutions that are no longer fit for purpose need to die so that new institutions and organisational arrangements can emerge, as Douglas North noted. Within the UN, nothing ever dies.

Introducing RightTube

“Why it’s time for YouTube to ban the alt-right” is the latest piece in the New Statesman from the journalist and commentator Paul Mason, or Corbyn Ally Paul Mason to give him his full name.

Recent academic studies of alt-right sympathisers show that they are, indeed, divided into people prepared to glorify their own violence and those uneasy about it; rabid authoritarians completely sold on destroying democracy, and a wider group suffering from cultural insecurity. The political challenge is to defeat both, but in the process the task of preventing the evolution of the authoritarian conservative into the fascist is important.

I can think of no better way of doing this than excising the entire alt-right from YouTube. Hate speech is, in many countries illegal; incitement to rape and violence is a crime, so why does the world’s third biggest company, staffed largely by liberals, feminists and rationalists, want to make money by providing an echo chamber?

Some students of the alt-right argue that, by censoring them, we feed their narrative of paranoia. That is a danger. But YouTube is not a civil society in miniature: it is a business, and has business ethics and a reputation to maintain. It has already kicked the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones off the platform; it would be very easy to remove not just the open fascists but any of the useful idiot brigade who knowingly platform them and drive customers to their books and lectures.

To do this would require a mixture of redesigned algorithms and prudent human judgement, challenging the fiction that YouTube and other social networks are “platforms not publishers”. It would mean YouTube’s executives having to take an overt business decision that they do not want their platform to be the primary means of spreading far-right ideologies such as “race science” or anti-vaccination mythology.

The far-right would still be free to make videos and send them to each other. But by depriving them of network tools and incentives, the world’s primary online video platform would be taking a major stand in favour of democracy. And their sympathisers in the echo chamber would then face a choice: stop driving traffic and attention to the outright fascists, or lose access in the same way.

Depriving fascism of its platform online is, in current circumstances, even more important than confronting it on the streets. Its strategy is not a direct read-off from the Hitlerite playbook, which begins with street violence and ends with state power. Modern fascists are quite happy operating in the parallel universe of online influence, doxxing political targets, polluting the information society, acting as a provisional wing of authoritarian conservatism, while politicians like Trump, Salvini and Le Pen do the heavy lifting in thousand dollar suits.

So it is in the interest of all of us that YouTube’s executives develop an editorial and political morality. I doubt CEO Susan Wojcicki thinks it’s cool to be running the primary transmitter of racism, fascism and misogyny in the world. But it’s time to stop.

I would be the last to deny that as a private company YouTube has the right to ban ban banban banban like the Pearl & Dean theme tune if it wants to. But the results might not be to Mr Mason’s liking. Or YouTube’s. At present when YouTube bans an individual extreme right winger, or someone it thinks is an extreme right winger, the utility of YouTube to the average person looking for political content is not much changed. However if it were to excise a whole chunk of the the political spectrum – for make no mistake, any definition of “far-right” compiled with the assistance of Mr Mason will stretch a long way left – then, to adapt the sardonic remark that Charles Krauthammer once made about the success of Roger Ailes, the founder of Fox News, it would open up a niche market of half the world. Then you would have RightTube and LeftTube in all their Fallopian glory, and never more the twain would meet.

To knock on the door is better than booting it in

Debbie Hayton has written an article in the Spectator in which she describes herself as a transsexual who has “undergone a meaningful gender transition supported by medical interventions.” In the article she argues against change to the Gender Recognition Act.

I do not wish to argue either for or against changing that Act. I said my piece on all that two days ago. However, I would like to highlight one particular point that Ms Hayton made:

There is danger, too, to transsexuals – albeit one which is less obvious. As a transsexual woman, I have lived alongside women for many years. My acceptance has been based not on legal mechanisms, but on trust and confidence. When transsexuals like me transition gender, most women assume we have done so to preserve our mental health and usually respond with acceptance and kindness. We have been helped by excellent role models – like Jan Morris and April Ashley – who have engendered a sense of decency and decorum.

Sadly, some campaigners in the current climate have projected a sense of entitlement and recent events – whether it be a convicted rapist sexually assaulting female prisoners or transgender athletes sweeping aside female competition in women’s sports – have inflamed the debate. If this carries on, trust and confidence will lie in tatters. Even if the government does introduce self-declaration it will be worthless if our acceptance is the collateral damage.

I have no doubt that Ms Hayton will be roundly abused by more militant transgender activists for having sought the acceptance and friendship of cisgender women. Why, it’s almost like she thinks they have the right to refuse! Like some warrior cultures of old, the grievance culture holds getting what you want by asking or peaceably trading to be fit only for slaves. The superior person does not ask for what they want; they demand it.

Added later: “Demand” is putting it mildly for some transgender activists. By following a chain of links I have come across a website called “TERF is a slur”. Its strapline is “Documenting the abuse, harassment and misogyny of transgender identity politics.” The website consists simply of screenshots of social media posts by transgender people expressing their hostility to “TERFS”, i.e. Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists. The tweets are astonishingly violent. I don’t for a moment think that this behaviour is typical of transgender people, but nor do I see this stream of threats of death and rape coming from the other side.

Edit and save?

While we follow the soap operas at Westminster, Brussels and Washington other things happen in the world. Some of them will have effects that may still reverberate when the names “May” or “Merkel” or “Trump” have become no more than answers to pub quiz questions. Harry Phibbs, writing in CapX, has depressing news:

Anti-scientific EU rules are hindering work to save millions of lives

Let us consider another EU imposition. It is a rule that inhibits our contribution to the fight against malaria. According to UNICEF this disease is “the largest killer of children” on the planet. That agency estimates that malaria kills one child every 30 seconds, about a million a year. Most of those children are under five years of age, with 90 per cent of cases occurring in sub-Saharan Africa. Research suggests that while the number of deaths has fallen since 2010, in the last couple of years progress has stalled.

The good news is that a gene editing application has been developed which could eradicate malaria. It is called CRISPR — Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats — and is considered “cheaper, faster, and less error-prone than any gene editing technology that came before it”. It could help preserve endangered species, improve welfare for farm animals — and save the lives of millions of children. The idea is to make mosquitoes immune to the disease.

But

In July, the BBC reported that the “European Court of Justice ruled that altering living things using the relatively new technique of genome editing counts as genetic engineering.” It added that “scientists who work in the areas of gene editing and genetic modification warned that the ruling would hold back cutting-edge research and innovation.”

Denis Murphy, professor of biotechnology at the University of South Wales, said the EU rules would “potentially impose highly onerous burdens on the use of genome editing both in agriculture and even in medicine, where the method has recently shown great promise for improving human health and well being.”

I must be honest here. As I read that article, mixed in with the genuine sadness and anger I felt about the way the EU’s restrictions look likely to hinder the development of a technique that could have alleviated large amounts of human suffering, I also felt a certain ignoble exhilaration. The European Union is being as bad as I always said it was. I had found a devastating answer to “Name me one bad thing the EU does, then!” It is possible that partisan passion is blinding me to the good reasons the ECJ might have had for caution. Ecosystems are complicated. Messing about with them has a habit of going wrong. Think of the introduction of rabbits to Australia or Mao’s attempt to eradicate sparrows from China.

One of the skipped-over paragraphs from Mr Phibbs’ article that I covered with the word “But” is this one:

“The team began with just two edited males, designated mosquitoes 10.1 and 10.2, into which the drive was inserted. After two generations of cross-breeding with hundreds of wild-type mosquitoes — and in mosquitoes, two generations can pass in less than a month — they produced 3,894 third-generation mosquitoes, of which 3,869 (99.5 percent) had the resistance gene. Just two mosquitoes were able to spread the trait to thousands of progeny — and malaria resistance along with it.”

The speed of that geometric progression scares me. Once started, the spread of these gene-edited mosquitoes could not be easily reversed.

But maybe it does not scare you, and you know more of genome editing than I do. My knowledge of biology is that of an attentive reader of pop science. Can any of you tell me more about this subject? Is the EU being as bad as I always said it was?

Even unto the 10th generation (depending on what the meaning of ‘is’ is)

Elizabeth Warren helped her academic career by claiming benefits available to members of a minority group – in her case, native american. Later it turned out she had no evidence of this. One of her ancestors was a soldier who guarded native americans on the ‘trail of tears’ but there was no traceable first nations ancestry – just (she said) a family legend.

Some people suggested it was fraud and hypocrisy to take minority benefits when you had no evidence you were one. And Donald Trump said he’d pay $1 million to any charity she chose if she could show she was.

Now she has taken a DNA test. As she supported the recounts in some states after he won, so likewise I would not in the least blame him for demanding a confirming second test supervised by agreed experts. Let us assume, however, for the sake of argument, that, just as those recounts did not change the outcome, so a second test gives either

a) a minimally-similar result: Senator Warren has a single tenth generation native american ancestor

or

b) an even better result: suppose, for example, that a more detailed check shows she has a single fifth-generation native american ancestor

Two questions arise.

The first, as a man once said, depends upon what the meaning of ‘is’ is. For the purpose of claiming minority benefits and status in today’s identity culture, does being a minority extend unto the fifth generation? How about unto the tenth generation? (And if, as the NYT reported in 2014, the average european american is 0.18% native american, are they all entitled to these benefits?)

The second is: did Trump just win a bet or lose it? I guess that would depend on what exactly he said and whether he later clarified it. If he said ‘any’ amerindian ancestry, I think he just lost. If he said ‘is’ amerindian, I think he just won. If he’d ever clarified it to, “Has a proportion of native american descent that is at least a full standard deviation’s worth above the mean for the US population” – then I’d think he (was being advised by a statistician and) may have won, but if he’d said “mode” instead of “mean”, could Warren’s charity be in with a chance? Should Trump pay a percentage of $1 million equal to her percentage of first-nations ancestry – or that percentage divided by the percentage that US universities typically demand when handing out minority benefits?

In this time of polarisation, I’d like to think at least a political bet could be settled. It would be a pity if, unlike presidential elections in the US constitution, this one proves not to have been well-enough defined beforehand.

The NYT article was about the difficulty the old south had defining exactly who was black and who was not. Everything old is new again.

When the pot is boiling over, try turning down the heat

I am told that one of the ways Libertarians irritate normal people is by their attitude that there is a simple answer for so many of the political dilemmas that vex society.

Suck it up, normies, there is. There is certainly a simple answer for the political dilemma about which the Times is asking in this Readers’ poll: “Should everyone who identifies as female have access to women-only spaces?” The rubric says,

The government is consulting on a reform of the Gender Recognition Act. Currently the law allows people to gain legal recognition for a change of gender, but some transgender groups say the process is bureaucratic and intrusive and are pushing for a change that will allow anyone to freely choose their gender.

This is opposed by a number of women’s rights groups, which say the change would give men access to female-only spaces such as lavatories and changing rooms, putting women in danger.

The equalities minister, Penny Mordaunt, will consider whether to reform the law after the consultation ends on October 19 — but as The Sunday Times reports, many Conservative MPs are opposed to any change.

What’s your view?

You doubtless want to hear the result of the poll. I will tell you by and by, but for now I will exercise my freedom to irritate, and reiterate that the simple answer to the political dilemma is to take politics, in the sense of laws voted into existence by MPs like Penny Mordaunt and then enforced by the police and the Equalities Commission and suchlike, entirely out of the equation. Freedom of association for all! But what about bad people? What about Nazis? Yes, them too. If Nazis own or legitimately hire a space to do their Nazi stuff in, leave them to it. Don’t want to hire your hall to Nazis? Then don’t. Want to boycott any premises that lets Nazis in – or any that keeps Nazis out? Then do so.

Between groups of people who are not bad but among whom there are differences of opinion, try negotiation. It doesn’t have to be a million separate negotiations for every individual village hall or public lavatory, or for every women’s sporting competition or Brownie pack; there are such things as organisations and organisational policies. Not that there is anything wrong with having a great many separate local deals. This is called “subsidarity”.

Many fear that this radical strategy would give free rein to the worst instincts of the people. I don’t get it. To get into the habit of settling disputes by meeting the other party and peacefully trying to reach a compromise sounds a great deal more likely to give free rein to the best instincts of the people. Humans are nicer when not being threatened. Conversely when they suspect that in their relations with another group that, as the saying goes, “if you give them an inch they’ll take a mile” – then they won’t give an inch.

The other day I read this post from Econlog entitled “Tradeoffs Between Immigration and Reduced Freedom of Association”. Key quote:

The more that people’s freedom not to associate with others is reined in, especially when those others are people of different races, the less likely they are to favor immigration and, even if they never favored immigration, the more likely they are to be outspoken opponents of immigration.

Race is not the only category this applies to. Have you noticed how people who five years ago would have thought a transwoman was a lady from Transylvania now see transsexuals and/or transgender people as a threat? Have you also noticed how discussion of this issue is another pot beginning to boil over to use the metaphor of my earlier post. So far the lid is being held down. One word out of place on this topic can get you into trouble. But the pressure keeps rattling the pot, with jets of steam coming from such unlikely members of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy as users of Mumsnet, members of the Labour party and Lesbians at a Pride march.

I voted “No” in that Times poll. As so often with me and polls I did not agree with the premises of the question. Other people freely choosing the gender is none of my business. I do not support or oppose a change in the criteria for legal recognition for a change of gender; I support tearing up all the laws on this subject and setting them on fire. Still my answer to the question “Should everyone who identifies as female have access to women-only spaces?” was closer to “No” than “Yes”.

5,068 votes have been cast so far in the poll. 97% of them were “No”. Of course it is a self-selecting sample from readers of one newspaper. Do not read too much into it. But you probably should read something into it. That is a strikingly high level of disapproval of a Conservative government’s proposed policy from the readers of a Conservative-leaning newspaper.

The Guardian takes the lid off the pot

I avidly followed the coverage in the British press of the the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court. In this post I will look at one paper in particular, the Guardian. When it was founded as the Manchester Guardian in the nineteenth century, this newspaper’s name was meant to indicate that its role was to “zealously enforce the principles of civil and religious Liberty”, which included an earnest concern for legal protections such as the presumption of innocence. The modern Guardian published many, many news and opinion pieces describing how to tell that Kavanaugh was a bad ‘un. I was more interested in the readers’ comments.

The Guardian used to allow readers to comment on practically every news article and opinion piece. Sometimes this meant that its editors and writers would be made painfully but usefully aware that many of its readers were not “with the program”. That changed under the current editor, Katharine Viner. Throughout most of the Kavanaugh saga comments were firmly closed. There was at least one story that I cannot now find for which comments were opened in error and then quickly slammed shut again. Then on 5th October came a story in which comments were intentionally opened: “Trump and Kavanaugh claim we live in a meritocracy. Don’t believe a word of it” by Arwa Mahdawi. The tone of the piece is that of a shared joke: “… Brett Kavanaugh. You know, the judge who really likes beer and seems to hate women having autonomy over their reproductive systems”. I think the writer may have been surprised at the trend the comments took. The top rated comment was by “SpringinAmsterdam1” and said,

Arwa can I ask, how would you feel if an event someone else felt had happened, had no issue was raised at the time, and when it was raised and people know there is no proof of the event, but thousands of people had decided through the court of social media, believed you to be guilty?

How would you deal with that, and can you see how this could be used to assassinate a persons character? Lastly, do you believe in innocent till proven guilty?

October 8th saw the breaking of a tiny little Berlin Wall: two pieces which acknowledged that all was not well with the narrative. For Jessa Crispin’s article “Women aren’t united against Kavanaugh. That’s a dangerous myth” the top comment came from “HarSingh” and said,

It might be because women are sensible? There was no corroborating evidence, she can’t recall if he was there, or even where it happened. She listed 4 people who could provide evidence but none of them decided to.

The timing of the allegation points to a witch hunt and a political hatchet job. It backfired, male or female, the majority realise this

Also on October 8th came this article by Cas Mudde putting forward the novel argument that Kavanaugh’s confirmation might boost the Republicans. The most recommended comment was by “Truewordshere” and said,

The Republican senator Susan Collins once again broke the hearts of many naive liberals

True liberals should watch her speech explaining her choice. A calm and reasoned explanation based on deeply-ingrained liberal principles. “Liberals”, however, branded her a “rape apologist”.

Comments were pre-moderated for “Trump sees only his own victimhood as he apologises to Kavanaugh” by Gaby Hinsliff on 9 October. The top one came from “HappyExpat50” and started by quoting Ms Hinsliff,

For a moment, as Donald Trump spoke of the “pain and suffering” endured by one noble individual in his wretched supreme court nomination process, you almost wondered if he might find some gracious way to acknowledge Christine Blasey Ford.

HappyExpat50 then went on,

Has he been charged with anything ?

Has he been convicted of anything ?

I would have thought that the Cliff Richard fiasco in the UK would have at least taught some people that people are innocent until proven guilty.

The lid is off the pot and there is something bubbling up within.

What’s going on with Facebook?

Over at Libertarian Home, Simon Gibbs (who is the proprietor of Libertarian Home) asks:

I’m asking you a question: have you been tuning into these pages and what do you think is going on? Are some of these legit targets based on some criteria of public safety that you feel is valid? Or are they legitimately operated venues of dissenting opinion which is being squashed?

“These pages” being a list of pages which a certain Justin Harvey (commenting on a Facebook posting) says have been taken down, by Facebook.

I have only very recently plugged myself into Facebook, and have so far only lurked. I have posted nothing. Facebook is useful to me for keeping track of the doings of a few actual friends of mine (this one in particular), but otherwise I find it confusing. They keep nagging me to stick up a picture, so that my “friends” can know that I am really me, but my actual friends know this already.

Besides which, whatever combination of rumour and fact it is that Simon Gibbs is asking about make me think that if Facebook really, really wants me “to take a few moments” to update all my info, they can take a hike. The regular question with which Facebook confronts me whenever I open it, “What’s on your mind?”, feels downright creepy, given what I am coming to believe about the utter duplicity of Facebook’s masters and commanders, wanting, as they seem to, all the privileges but none of the obligations both of a common carrier and of a freelance publisher.

But what does our Commentariat think? I am not so concerned about the mere experience of using Facebook. Nor am I now asking about privacy. It is Facebook’s political biases that I am asking about, as is Simon Gibbs. One of my biases being in favour of people being allowed to express political opinions that I don’t share. The way it looks, to me, now, is that Facebook will be delighted to convey whatever opinions I express on Facebook to the world, until such time as the world starts, in noticeable numbers, paying attention to those opinions, at which point those opinions, being what they are, will vanish from view.

It may well be that, as a freelance enterprise rather than a government agency, Facebook is entitled to behave as it pleases, and face the commercial consequences. But if that’s so, what sort of consequences should those of us who do not share Facebook’s biases be trying to contrive for Facebook, and how? Besides, which, maybe Facebook actually is now a government agency in all but name.

Libertarian Home is an enterprise I admire. I especially enjoy attending its meetings, which happily for me mostly take place a mere walk away from where I live. But the LH commentariat is not as impressive as the one here, and I would love it if our commentariat were to take a serious crack at the questions that Simon Gibbs poses.

Leadership in Elizabeth’s Britain

Recent testimony from a former Acting Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Sir Craig Mackey indicates that he was present as one of his officers was stabbed to death during the Westminster Bridge attack, and sat in his car and locked the doors, and took advice from his subordinates as to what, if anything, to do. Holding, in an acting capacity, the most important policing role in the UK, he did not get out of the car, in which he was a passenger, to intervene, nor, AFAIK, did he suggest that the car be used as a weapon. Of course, it is much easier for any one of us to sit as armchair strategists as to what we might have done, but would we continue in office and look forward to collecting pensions had we been in Sir Craig’s unscuffed shoes?

Sir Craig told jurors it was his ‘instinct’ to get out of the car, but was in a short-sleeved shirt with no equipment following (a) ministerial meeting. ‘I was conscious my two colleagues were not police officers. If anyone had got out, the way this Masood was looking, anyone who got in his way would have been a target,’ he said. ‘I think anyone who came up against that individual would have faced serious, serious injury, if not death.’

He is right, PC Keith Palmer, an unarmed police officer, was murdered in front of the eyes of his then ultimate commander. An armed officer who was co-incidentally nearby was then able to shoot and kill the terrorist Khalid Masood. Presumably Sir Craig did not see it, on balance, as his responsibility to intervene.

The inquest… …heard that Sir Craig, then acting Scotland Yard chief, and his colleagues locked the car doors because they had ‘no protective equipment and no radio’.

Some have criticised Sir Craig, alleging cowardice. The Daily Mail highlights the contrast with a junior Transport Police officer who fought the London Bridge attackers.

So it’s not impossible these days to find brave people in public service, but what rises to the top? Is the process like flatulence in a bath?

In the last summer of George VI’s reign, a relatively junior RAF officer, Flt-Lt John Quinton DFC gave away the only parachute he had to save a young Air Cadet he was training at the cost of his life: The ultimate zenith of courage and leadership. I am reminded of a quote I read about being a Lieutenant in the (IIRC Imperial) German Army.

To live your life as a Lieutenant is to life your life as an example to your men. Dying as an example is thus part of it‘.

Grim, but accurate. In living memory, examples such as the Royal Navy destroyer Acasta, turning to face the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in June 1940, and earlier HMS Rawalpindi, whose Captain Kennedy reportedly announced, in the hope of delaying his attackers to let a larger force get them’We shall stand and fight them both, and we shall be sunk, and that will be that. Goodbye.‘. Chilling, but, in the overall scheme of things, better than surrendering and strengthening the enemy.

Sir Craig did what was, to him, undoubtedly the right thing, all his years of service and significant salary did not come with a payback clause, or if they did, it was binding in honour only. He did not breach health and safety law for himself or his companions.

Sir Craig did not take the substantive job of Commissioner, that went to the officer who managed the hunt for a terrorist that turned into the shooting of an innocent Brazilian electrician. This was found to be a crime, in terms of a breach of Health and Safety, but this was no bar to getting the top job, after all, it was a corporate failing, not anything that anyone was to be held responsible for.

Of course, in WW1, we had epic failures on land and sea that seemed to go unpunished. It’s just that these days, it seems almost to be too much to expect leadership by example from our public ‘servants’. What sort of descent has it been for the UK, when the Queen’s first Prime Minister was Churchill, and now it is May, with Corbyn waiting in the wings? Has this pattern set, or followed, the trend? If this trend is irreversible, surely the only answer is that this is yet another reason to reduce the public sector.

An Open Letter to a Terrible Podcast

[I’m intensely interested in the current generation of space entrepreneurs. They really do have the capacity to transform the future of our species. I’m obsessed enough to listen to several space-related podcasts and watch a couple of Youtube channels on the topic. For reference, good podcasts include “Planetary Radio” for coverage of planetary science missions and government space policy, “Interplanetary Podcast” (an irreverent program produced by the British Interplanetary Society), the “Aerospace Engineering Podcast” (a recent addition I don’t yet have a strong opinion of) for insights into new technology, and I watch Youtube episodes of “TMRO”, “The Everyday Astronaut”, and Scott Manley’s show, all of which have interesting content. “TMRO” in particular is wonderful at conveying enthusiasm for the progress being made these days. “Planetary Radio” is much stodgier and more government space program oriented, but has excellent content and typically covers the whole spectrum quite fairly.

And then, there’s “Talking Space”, a podcast that I’m no longer willing to listen to. I rarely tell people that I’ve stopped subscribing to their content, but in this case, I felt compelled to write them a note — it’s unusual to find people in this media segment who so faithfully channel Ellsworth Toohey. Even though almost no one who reads Samizdata will have heard their tiny podcast, I’ve included the entire content below:]

I regularly listened to your program until your episode just after Falcon Heavy’s test flight. I was disgusted at that time with your astonishingly negative attitude about that launch, and unsubscribed for a while, but I decided to give you another chance. Having just stopped listening halfway through “To the moon, Elon!”, I think I’m through with your podcast permanently.

The BFR, if it flies, will be the first fully reusable orbital launch vehicle in history, and will also be one of the heaviest lift vehicles in history. Musk claims it will reduce launch costs by a factor of about two orders of magnitude. Even if it only reduces launch costs by a factor of ten and not one hundred, it will be a major milestone in human history, and I don’t believe that I’m exaggerating.

Not a single mention of that had been made by the time I shut off the episode. All I heard was “it might take a years longer than Musk says” and “this will cost money, where will it come from?” and the even more offensive “Yawn” remark where one of your hosts expressed actual boredom with the news.

On the cost, Musk has a long track record of securing the funding he needs, and as to the former, when he was asked about the timing at the press conference, he absolutely owned up to the fact that they were unlikely, saying that the dates in question were optimistic and based on nothing going wrong.

We all know by now, after his work at several companies, both that Musk rarely makes his dates, but that he almost always manages to achieve the the engineering goals he’s set. SpaceX had its first orbital launch only ten years ago, but is now the world’s leading launch provider, with only the Chinese government launching more often, and given the customer contracts they have in hand and the continuous increase in launch rate, by next year SpaceX may be approaching the Chinese launch cadence. There’s very little reason to doubt that they’re technically capable of building BFR or that they’ve got real revenue that they can apply to R&D, given that even a cursory estimate shows that their operating revenue is now into ten figures.

As for the ridiculous “Yawn” comment: presuming BFR launches, and I presume it will given enough time, it will dramatically alter the cost of human access to space. If the costs end up where Musk claims they will, the price of things like human colonization of cislunar space will be in the feasible range for the first time. If they end up 10x past what he thinks they will be, they’re still going to cut the price of access to space by 90%. This changes everything, even for science missions, which will benefit tremendously from far cheaper launches.

Spending your time nattering about how much you dislike Musk (which was a clear subtext) or are bored by him, how unlikely it is that he’ll get the money needed for development when he clearly managed to get the money needed for the development of all his projects to date, and how he might miss his date by years when that’s utterly immaterial, demonstrated to me that you guys are not my sort of people. You utterly miss the interesting part here — I can imagine your analysis of the first passenger railroad being something like “but the cross-ties are made of wood and will rot! They’ll have to be replaced at intervals!”.

Further, even if Musk doesn’t manage this and Bezos (who is working to the same goals) does, it still doesn’t matter — the world is about to be transformed, and all you can do is look for excuses to grumble.

I realized, in the midst of listening, that I understood the name of your podcast at last. It’s “Talking Space”.

Not “Doing Space”. “Talking Space”.

The lot of you are talkers, and the same sort of talkers who have naysayed pretty much ever interesting development since private development of space technology began in earnest. People like Musk, and Bezos, and Beck, and Haot, and all the others, who are putting their money on the line and their skin in the game, are the doers.

I’m done listening to talkers who have nothing to say but negative things when they themselves haven’t done anything. Musk’s people managed to go from zero to launching 20+ commercial orbital missions a year in a decade. What have you gotten done that makes you feel you can look down on SpaceX’s achievements?

I’ll conclude by saying this even more bluntly: the people responsible for human progress don’t spend all their time negatively gossiping from the sidelines about people who have done far more for humanity than themselves. We need more competent entrepreneurs, not more nasty talking heads.

Suicidal logic

Theresa May said the appointment of Health Minister Jackie Doyle-Price to the new role [Minister for Suicide Prevention] will help tackle the stigma surrounding suicide. While suicide rates are falling, 4500 people commit suicide every year. (BBC Text News this morning)

Creating a new role to solve a problem that is diminishing anyway may seem like a clever move to a politician, but I’m not so sure. If Minister Jackie Doyle-Price removes enough of the ‘stigma’ surrounding suicide, might the rate start rising again?

Of course, that might not be so much of a problem, politically. Back in the 70s Labour appointed a Minister for Drought after a long spell of dry weather. The heavens then opened – and he was reappointed Minister for Floods. When Jackie Doyle-Price has removed enough of the stigma surrounding suicide that you can get euthanasia on the NHS, perhaps she’ll be reappointed the Minister for Assisted Suicide.

Meanwhile, what does one make of Theresa May saying that there are too many suicides so we must remove the ‘stigma’ surrounding it. Should I assume that in the past, when I thought she was “thick as a brick”, I really hadn’t grasped how stupid she was. Or should I, more charitably, assume the PM reads (and signs?) whatever her civil servants put in front of her without thinking about it, while worrying every day “How long have I yet to live?” (politically).